ALEXANDRIA – For most of his adult life, Brad Sowinski has voted, though primarily in presidential elections.
“It’s hard to complain about things when you don’t vote. Even when there aren’t the best of options, you have to be a part of the process,” the Alexandria resident said.
But this year, he plans to make an additional visit to the polls for the midterm elections.
“This year, it seems like there’s a lot more publicity about it,” he said.
At 35, Sowinski, children’s librarian at Alexandria Public Library, is on the upper end of the age range of the generation known as the millennials.
Based on the Pew Research Center’s definition of millennials as those being born between 1981 and 1996, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates them to number 75.4 million, representing the largest potential voting bloc in the nation. If most were to vote, the millennials would be in control of the political direction of the nation.
Millennials, according to an NBC News/GenForward survey released in August, overwhelmingly prefer Democrats take over Congress.
According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, only 21 percent of millennial voters actually cast ballots in the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections. However, a new poll released last week by the Harvard Institute of Politics reports about 40 percent said they definitely would vote this midterm cycle.
Like many younger voters, Sowinski isn’t party loyal and cast his 2016 presidential candidate vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson.
“I just couldn’t vote for Trump or Hillary. You’re choosing the lesser of two evils and having to run with it,” he said, referring to now-President Donald J. Trump, a Republican, and his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. “I don’t think I know anyone who would vote a straight Republican ticket, a straight Democratic ticket. If you take away those kind of allegiances, it allows you to vote outside that two-party system.”
In spite of the millennials’ advancing age, many people don’t believe millennials have strong enough opinions or political ideas, Sowinski said.
“There’s an implied immaturity to being a millennial,” he said.
Still, Sowinski said he believes his ideals reflect the political priorities of the millennial generation. According to the Harvard poll, the top concerns among millennial include immigration and refugees, jobs and health care.
“I think the biggest thing about millennials is the show of diversity and the show of change for the better … Our hearts and our drive are in the right place,” he said.
But Sowinski said though he is interested at least in presidential politics, his priority is local politics, especially issues such as the local economy, the opioid epidemic and local public schools. He even is considering a run for Alexandria City Council, he said.
“I’m interested in things that affect my town specifically, things that affect my kids,” the father of two boys said.
As an older millennial with a family, Sowinski said, the issues he finds important also have changed.
“The responsibilities of life make you slow down and look at the big picture,” he said.
However, friends Hannah Cordle, 27, of Middletown, and Emily Robinson, 30, of Noblesville, are likely to be counted among the one-half of millennials who don’t plan to vote.
Each has said she has voted in the past, though only in presidential elections.
But Cordle's sentiments are aligned with those of women in a September poll conducted by the Hive, theSkimm and SurveyMonkey.
“I couldn’t even tell you when Election Day is,” Cordle said, following up that she likely would have to work that day, anyway. About 17 percent reported they were "too busy" to vote.
When asked, Cordle said she was not aware of the option of early voting. But, she said, if Election Day were a holiday, as some have suggested, she probably would take advantage of it to vote.
Her sentiments also mirror the 29 percent of millennial women in the Hive, theSkimm and SurveyMonkey survey who said some of their reluctance is they don't want to vote for anyone without knowing the issues and what the candidates stand for. Another 18 percent said they don't believe their vote will make a difference.
Cordle said she also believes her voting habits aren’t necessarily typical of her generation.
“I feel like people my age are very vocal and aggressive about what side they are in things,” she said.
For Robinson, it’s a combination of not having any issues that resonate with her and not seeing any candidates she wants to get behind.
“The first time I voted, it was for (Barack) Obama, and that was the first time he ran,” she said.